Alessandro Speciale 03-22-2013
RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis waves during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Friday called for more intense dialogue between religious leaders, particularly Muslims, as he tries to recalibrate relations between the world’s two largest religious groups.

Speaking in the Vatican’s majestic Sala Regia, the Argentine pontiff said that part of his mission is to connect “all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister.”

In a meeting with Vatican diplomats and foreign leaders, Francis also reaffirmed the church’s commitment to protect the poor and the environment, an early theme in his young pontificate.

“Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up,” the pope said.

An inaugural prayer should connect the particularities of one's own faith tradition with the pluralism of the nation.

Omar Sacirbey 03-11-2013

Muslim and civil rights organizations say a New York Police Department program to secretly monitor Islamic communities has created so much fear and suspicion among Muslims that many find it impossible to lead normal lives.

A new 56-page report, “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims,” details how the NYPD’s covert surveillance caused Muslims to refrain from activism and change their appearance so as not to appear too Muslim, and sowed suspicion among community members.

As a result, the Monday report asserts, trust between Muslims and police has broken down. The program, in which NYPD policemen secretly visited mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, and student and civic associations beyond New York’s five boroughs, was established in 2001 but uncovered by The Associated Press in 2011.

A spokesperson for the NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Doug Stanglin 01-09-2013
RNS photo courtesy

An ad campaign to change public perception of the word "jihad." RNS photo courtesy

An ad campaign on San Francisco buses is aimed at trying to change public perception of the word “jihad,” which the program’s founder says has been distorted by extremists — Muslim and anti-Muslim alike.

Ahmed Rehab, a 36-year-old political activist, started the campaign in Chicago in December and expanded it to 25 San Francisco buses at the start of the year.

Rehab, who heads the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says his MyJihad campaign, which defines jihad as a personal struggle in many areas of life, is aimed at reframing a debate over a word that has become synonymous in many quarters with armed struggle and terrorism.

He said the debate has been taken over “more or less by two extremes — Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim extremists.”

Danny Duncan Collum 11-02-2012

Should America reconsider our open market in bigoted ideas?

Eboo Patel 11-02-2012

It's frustrating to be constantly represented by violent thugs and to be asked to explain their actions.

Megan Sweas 10-31-2012

LOS ANGELES — Unshaven and wearing a black hoodie and cap, Omar Elba looked out from the lectern, surrounded by a gold cross and organ pipes. "Moses, you are my nizzle fo' shizzle," said the Egyptian-born Muslim comedian, doing his best to channel Snoop Dogg.

It's a joke he's done before, but never in a church.

The unique setting of their performance inside Westwood Hills Congregational Church wasn't lost on any of the performers at the Sultans of Satire comedy show. Yet the sacred stage didn't keep them from swearing or talking about sex, although it inspired more jokes about growing up Jewish, Muslim, and Christian than one might typically hear during stand-up.

"I don't know whether to tell jokes or tell you my confessions," Elba said, opening up the show.

Janelle Tupper 10-04-2012

A house of worship in Ohio was hit by an arsonist this weekend, causing an estimated million dollars in damage. Services were rescheduled, members toured the building to see the destruction, and statements were made. The religious community felt targeted and was afraid of future attacks.

The fact that the space in question was the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo should not change our outrage. As Christians, we need to stand for religious liberty for people of all faiths. We need to love our neighbors and speak out against hate.

Soon after this weekend’s attack was made public, we put a plan into action to demonstrate our solidarity. As we have done in Missouri, Tennessee, and New York, we will be offering a simple, biblical message: “Love your Muslim neighbors.”

Jim Rice 10-03-2012

We'll never reach reconciliation between Christians and Muslims until we address root causes—and take on the haters.

Jim Wallis 10-03-2012

It is contrary to Christian values to use attacks on welfare to win white votes.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the UN General Assembly on Sept. 25. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

President Obama on Tuesday gave a forceful speech at the United Nations, in which he challenged much of the world's assumptions about free speech and religion.

Here are five points from his address, which together, add up to as close to an Obama Doctrine on Religion as we've seen:

1. Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerable

The idea that the U.S. protects even vile speech, so ingrained in American culture, seems counterintuitive to much of the world. It’s an especially tough concept when speech targets a religion, but Obama argued that restrictions on speech too often become weapons to suppress religion – especially the rights of religious minorities.

Adnan Silajdzic 09-17-2012

As told to Rose Marie Berger

Daniel Burke 09-13-2012
RNS file photo by David Gard/The Star-Ledger

Terry Jones said he would promote a crude film that portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as s sexual pervert. RNS file photo

When inflamed mobs stormed the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt on Tuesday, the media quickly looked to a likely spark.

Florida Pastor Terry Jones ignited deadly riots by threatening to burn Qurans in 2010, and by torching the Islamic holy text last year. Recently, Jones said he would promote a crude film that portrays Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a foolish sexual pervert.

But in the days before the protests, Jones made no public mention of the film called Innocence of Muslims — even as he prepared to stage an “International Judge Muhammad Day” on Sept. 11.

Instead, the man who translated the film into Arabic, sent it to Egyptian journalists, promoted it on his website and posted it on social media was an obscure Egyptian-born Coptic Christian who lives near Washington and proudly touts his ties to Jones.

Christian Piatt 09-13-2012
Actor portraying Mohammed in “Innocence of Muslims,"via Christian Piatt

Actor portraying Mohammed in “Innocence of Muslims,"via Christian Piatt

I finally sat down and watched the entire 11-plus minute video, Innocence of Muslims, which is at the heart of the recent outrage in Islamic countries in Yemen and north Africa.  Suffice it to say, I lost a healthy share of brain cells in the process. The narrative – if you can call it that – is incoherent throughout, the sound is barely audible in places and the overall production values make the Annoying Orange series look like Scorsese.

That said, there’s plenty to anger Muslims in this clip, or anyone who values religious tolerance, plural coexistence, or even basic respect for human nature.

Omar Sacirbey 09-05-2012
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Democratic National ConventThe number of Muslion at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C.. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The number of Muslim delegates attending the Democratic National Convention has quadrupled since 2004, according to a Muslim advocacy group.  

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations counts more than 100 Muslim delegates representing some 20 states at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., this week. That's up from 25 delegates in 2004, according to CAIR.

CAIR government affairs coordinator Robert McCaw said the numbers were ”a sign of the American Muslim community’s growing civic engagement and acceptance in the Democratic Party.” He also said that Democrats had targeted outreach to American Muslims. 

Jon Huckins 08-30-2012
Interfaith prayer, photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Interfaith prayer, photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Hebron is known as one of the most volatile cities in the whole region of Israel/Palestine. Located in the heart of the West Bank, both Jews and Arabs have had roots here for thousands of years.  Having endured years of conflict, racism, violence and separation, Hebron’s inhabitants have been covered in a narrative lacking an acknowledgment of a shared humanity

It’s in the middle of such realities that our Learning Community (part of our organization, The Global Immersion Project) feels called to listen, learn, and be radically present. Through the art of friendship making, shared tables and storytelling, we desire to promote the just heart of God by being a people of reconciliation in the way of Jesus. 

It was this posture that landed us in the underground home of a local Muslim Palestinian family who is close friends with the Jewish Rabbi who was hosting us in the old city of Hebron (he is both a host and dear friend). Having prepared a beautiful and expansive Palestinian meal, they warmly invited each one of us into their home and said, “Today, this is your home.” 

Daniel Burke 08-30-2012
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, RNS photo by Enid Bloch

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, RNS photo by Enid Bloch

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has spent most of his adult life trying to build interfaith and international bridges. But to many Americans, he is the public face of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque," one of the most controversial religious projects in recent U.S. history.

Rauf reflects on that turmoil in his new book, Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America. But as the book's subtitle suggests, the longtime imam spends most of his time facing forward — toward the development of a distinctly American brand of Islam. He spoke recently with Religion News Service. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.    

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: I wrote this book because the American public saw me and heard me, but really didn’t get to know me very well, or to understand what my work was all about. This book is my calling card to the American public.

Omar Sacirbey 08-29-2012
RNS photo by Veridicu Photo

hadija Anderson, a Muslim convert in Los Angeles, performs a Butoh dance in 2008. RNS photo by Veridicu Photo

The Taliban in Afghanistan shocked the world this week when they beheaded 17 people, allegedly for the crime of dancing at a mixed-gender gathering.

Which prompts the question: Does Islam forbid dancing? While Islamic scholars are divided on the answer, it’s easy to find Muslims in America and abroad who love to boogie down.

“Even though there are scholars who forbid dancing, there is a long tradition of dancing in Muslim cultures,” said Vernon Schubel, a Muslim and professor of religious studies at Kenyon College in Ohio.

There is no mention of dancing in the Quran, which serves as Muslims’ primary source of guidance. There is a story about dancing in the hadith, or collected stories about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, which are the second-most important source of guidance for Muslims.

Kathleen K. Duff 08-17-2012
A Quran photographed in a mosque (2012). RNS photo by Sally Morrow

A Quran photographed in a mosque (2012). RNS photo by Sally Morrow

This year during Ramadan — the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar when Muslims believe the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad —  I was in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers throughout the world by reading the Quran. But here's the thing: I am a Roman Catholic.

My copy of the Quran, with more than 1,700 pages, has sat on the top shelf of my bedroom bookcase among other sacred texts for 14 years. Typically I would use it as a sporadic reference and resource to better understanding Islam, reading a few short passages at a time.

However, this Ramadan something at the core of my being was calling me to read the Quran in its entirety. And so my monthlong Ramadan journey began.

Each day and evening, the prayerful poetry in the Quran held me in a meditative mode of peace as I read without being aware of the passage of time.

When I finished reading a week before the end of the month, I felt as if the Quran was almost endless, reaching beyond the confines of my calendar days. I didn’t want to read the last page. I didn’t want to be finished.

The Quran inspired me, taught me and helped me to remember my essential holiness and how that holiness in the image of God should be reflected in the world.

Omar Sacirbey 08-16-2012

After four years of living in the U.S., Mohamed Jedeh is anxious to return to his native Libya.

It irks him that his local mosque in Union City, N.J., won’t broadcast the Muslim call to prayer for fear of angering neighbors, yet nobody complains about the noise from a local bar. Back home, there are no scantily clad women walking across his sight line, and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is easier because almost everyone is doing it.

Jedeh would probably be home by now if he hadn't been asked by a mosque in Boston to help with special nightly Ramadan prayers. After graduating in May with a master's degree in clinical research from the New York University College of Dentistry, he's ready to get back to the small city of Zintan in northwest Libya, where he plans to teach dentistry and work at a local clinic.

“It’s different,” said Jedeh, who flies back on Aug. 20. “I miss the Islamic atmosphere.”

Despite his homesickness, Jedeh said he has had a positive experience in the U.S. He initially worried about his wife's safety because she wears a niqab, or face veil, but except for one insult shouted by a passerby, he and his family have been treated respectfully. 

“I believe you cannot judge any country and say, all people are good or all people are bad,” said Jedeh.